Health District director issues COVID-19 update

Today, I am supplying overall numbers for the New
River Valley, plus a breakdown in how COVID-19 is
impacting each community differently. You can see
from the overall district graph that the New River
Valley has had two spikes so far, in late August from
college students in Montgomery County and the city
of Radford, then in mid-October, we saw our
community numbers start to rise from travel,
workplace, social activities and nursing homes.
Montgomery County is our largest population center
and seems to have hit a plateau of about 25-30 new
cases per day. The Virginia Tech cases are stable
and any increases in Montgomery County are from a
growing community spread. We may see another
increase in cases this week from some community
gatherings at Halloween. According to our law
enforcement teams, these were not student
gatherings, but rather among our high school
students and families.

In Radford, you can see that they had two clear
spikes that have resolved. Radford’s recent
increase was a combination of outbreaks, including
student, business, and long-term care. Pulaski
currently has a similar situation to Radford, minus
the students. Much of Pulaski’s latest cases have
been from a long-term-care facility and general
community spread. Floyd currently has a low-level
community spread. Giles has been the least
impacted in the district since March, but has
recently had outbreaks at a school and long-termcare
COVID is transmitted through that close social
contact and currently, it is coming from smaller
gatherings of friends and families, and gatherings
moving indoors as the weather gets colder and
people not wearing face masks. We must remain
vigilant about practicing the public health
precautions and not let it wear us down. We can
beat COVID if we unite and take care of each other.
In the New River Valley, we have 13 outbreaks:
 5 in long-term care facilities
 4 in congregate settings
 2 in higher education
 1 in childcare
 1 in school
Our schools are all engaged in some form of inperson
instruction. We did have an outbreak among
staff at Giles High School and have been working to
mitigate and contain that from spreading further. All
of our schools have mitigation plans in place to
protect faculty, staff and students.
I’d like to call out the work that the New River Valley
Business Continuity Team has been doing. The
BCT has developed a number of resources for
workplaces and has helped many businesses
navigate how to handle a positive case or an
outbreak. They are quickly becoming one of the first
calls that businesses make when they have a team member with COVID. By providing this assistance
to workplaces, the BCT has taken a huge burden off of the health department, so we can focus on
contact tracing and investigations. The BCT has been valuable in helping us keep workplace outbreaks
to a minimum in the New River Valley.

We all have the power to control our own exposure. It’s not where we go, but what we do. Each
individual and household should be evaluating our risk levels and altering our behavior accordingly. If
we are high-risk, or interact with a high-risk individual, we need to choose lower-risk behavior. If we are
uncomfortable with a proposed plan, we need to choose to not participate.
Wearing masks really does help to protect us. Wearing a mask works to stop the spread and to lessen
the viral load when it does spread. This means that wearing a mask protects the wearer. Wearing a
mask means that, even if you do get COVID-19, it will likely be asymptomatic or a mild case. Wearing a
mask may well keep you and your family out of the hospital.
As Thanksgiving gets closer, we are encouraging everybody to make their plans. In the New River
Valley, many of our college students and their families are preparing for the students to travel home.
We are encouraging all households that will be traveling or accepting travelers to add extra vigilance
beginning this week. We encourage you to limit your close contacts with people not in your households
and if you are going to be with a high-risk person, to consider quarantining before traveling. During the
holiday, if high-risk individuals are involved, you may want to wear masks indoors and connect with
each other in well ventilated areas, such as outdoors. We need to focus less on the meal because
that’s when we take our masks off. Spread out well if indoors, or dine outside, weather permitting.
In the New River Valley, we are going to offer drive-through testing on Thursday, Nov. 19 for anybody
who wants a test before the holiday. We will also be hosting extended testing opportunities after the
holiday and will announce details when they are confirmed.
In closing, I’d like to address the vaccine news that was announced this week. Please note that we will
not be offering any vaccines that are unsafe. Although the vaccine development has been fast-tracked,
the safety testing has not been compromised. When vaccines are initially available, we will get some
limited quantities, with growing availability in the months that follow. The vaccines will be available only
for those groups who have been part of the trials. It’s possible that the initial vaccines will not be
available for some of our highest risk groups, such as the elderly.
This is a fast-changing situation and we will continue to keep our communities and our partners in the
media up to date with accurate information.
Meanwhile, please remember to wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands. And please
stay home if you are sick or have had close contact with a known COVID case.
—Dr. Noelle Bissell, Director, New River Public Health District.